In Conversation – Grant Kester

In Conversation – Grant Kester 

This interview with Grant Kester is in relation to his book ‘Conversation Pieces 2004’. In it he talks to us about where he originally started out as an art critic and what eventually led him to becoming a leading authority on relational art.

This is a fascinating interview with Kester and it is difficult to extract all the pieces that peaked my interest. Here are a few of the comments that jumped out at me.

Kester himself states that he became bored critiquing relational works of art by simply looking for contradictions “I see contradictions easily in Participatory/Relational type works” It got boring for him so he decided to accept that most works carry a certain amount of contradiction and instead to look for more positive attributes to these pieces. This change of mind set was brought on by one of his students asking him a question “What do you like?” This made him reconsider his position as a critique and form a new approach.

Kester said that he respected the artists and what they wanted to do even if he didn’t always agree with them. He said that he respected their “commitment, passion and their integrity not to do something in the arts that was not purely involved with self interest and career enhancement.”

He also said that is was difficult not to form relationships with some of these artists as critiquing their practice involves time and close proximity unlike object based art that one can visit in a gallery and never even have to speak to the artist.

Kester also mentions the paradigm shift in the art world towards this type of art. I personally believe that this is due to current social and political unrest around the world. A lot of these movements that take art out of the gallery and into the open sphere seem to stem from political upheaval. For example Futurism and Cubism in the early 1900s with the age of the machine, the Dada movement in Zurich 1916 that started during WWI, Abstract Expressionism during WWII and the Cold War.

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Kester compares Claire Bishops views on Relational Art to his own. He claims that Bishop has a tendency to prefer relational art that has set rules  or canons in place. The practitioner has fabricated the instructions before the event.  Kester argues that these boundaries only limit the work and prefers to see that fabrication removed in order to promote dialogue and collaboration between practitioner and participant. – I am not completely in agreement with Kester on this one. I feel the practitioner should have an idea or a concept of some form going into a relational art event but also have the openness to allow for changes brought on through collaboration and participation.

He says that critics should be open to the work and respect the practitioner. Critics need to examine their own canonical boundaries as this may be blocking their ability to truly examine a piece.

Grant Kester states that there is a lot of concern about about the ethics of this form of art and be makes the statement that “All modern art is ethical to the core”- I am not entirely sure what he means by this or how he backs this statement up? However he does talk about Claire Bishop’s critique on Phil Collins “They Shoot Horses, 2004″, where you are introduced to Palestinian teenagers in Ramallah dancing to hiphop wearing Nike trainers and clothes as we would here in the UK. He claims that this is ethical and ethical piece as it breaks with conventional misconceptions and stereotypes whilst also being a commentary on a country in political unrest. He says this piece of art represents Humanism.

Kester says that we should avoid ‘Agonist Collective Art’, saying that “we don’t need art to teach us about ‘Agonism’ – we see enough of that around the world already” He also says to avoid naivety of a utopian idea of what a community should be. Instead we should use this type of art to create micro political experiments that give us glimpse of other possibilities of being together.

Another point of interest that Kester discuses is about engaging with NGOs Non-Government Organisations. He says that effectively as an artist it becomes a patronage and that you may be subject to the NGOs guidelines. This could potentially be restrictive to your work.

I really enjoyed getting to hear the voice behind the word in his books and to have a little background information on how Grant Kester got to be the acclaimed critic that he is.



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